I was re-reading the Acts of the Apostles recently, and something very profound stood out to me that didn't 'hit me' as it should have in the past: the Apostle Paul loved his Jewish brothers dearly! Not being a Jew myself, and thus not having lived the Jewish lifestyle, I can only get a glimpse of what it was like for St Paul when he stood among his brethren to share the Gospel with them.
While today it is a very unpopular thing to do - even politically incorrect, if not "anti-Semitic" by some (false) reckoning - sharing the Gospel with the Jews is no less important than it was at the time of the Apostles. And traditionally, the Catholic Church has always made it clear that all men need salvation, including Jews, and that salvation comes only through the Lord Jesus Christ. Given this, it is sad that there had been such a de-emphasis on sharing the Gospel with all mankind, as if some don't need to know about Jesus, or worse yet, some don't need Jesus at all! And when one reads the New Testament writings, especially Acts, they see how important and dear it was to share the Gospel with the Jews first and foremost.
In the epilogue of Acts (written by St Luke, Paul's companion), one of the last things Paul says to the Jews is: "Because of the hope of Israel, I am bound with this chain." (28:20) Taken in isolation, this verse doesn't mean much; but taken in context, this means the world to Paul. After his miraculous conversion, Paul sees new meaning in his life as a Jewish-Christian, and a new calling by God to be a major spokesman for the Good News of Jesus. But this would come at a price. From the day of his conversion, his life would be a roller coaster of suffering and persecution, as he briefly explains: "Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches." (2 Corinthians 11:24ff)
The first thing Paul did upon his Baptism was to go to the local synagogues - where the Jews prayed - to share the Good News he was blessed to receive himself. But often times the Jews would not have this, and whenever Paul began making converts, other (jealous) Jews would stir up riots and threaten his life. But in spite of all this, God, in His Providence, preserved Paul's life so that His chosen vessel could carry the Gospel to the ends of the (colonized) earth. When Paul said, "Because of the hope of Israel, I am bound with this chain," this was after he had been forcibly taken from Jerusalem to Rome - so after his final pleading with the Jews of the Jewish capital, he could make a few bold appeals to the Jews in the world's capital. From this point on, he remained semi-imprisoned (under house arrest) in Rome, writing many of his Epistles, until his martyrdom.
This line was so profound to me because it always seemed as if the focus on sharing the Gospel was the Gentiles, especially for Paul. But the fact is, all throughout Acts, even to the very last chapter, the Jews are given a very special and primary emphasis when it came to evangelization. Since the Jews were originally chosen by God, based on a promise He made to Abraham, to be entrusted with sharing His Law and eventually His Son to the world, it was only fitting that the Jews should be the first to hear and accept the Gospel. For people today to say the Jews don't need to hear the Gospel so that they might know their Messiah and be eternally saved is not only a slap in the face to Paul and the efforts of the other Apostles, it's a monstrous injustice. The Catholic Church has always maintained that not sharing the gospel with unbelievers (of any background) is akin to not sharing food with a starving person. In the case of the Jews, the (spiritually) starving people were Paul's own brethren.
So what does this mean for us today? And how are we to share the Gospel with the Jews when Saint Paul himself had such a difficult time doing so? Certainly, most of us cannot match the abilities of Paul, nor are we endowed with the same level of the outpouring of gifts of the Spirit as he was. But Providence teaches us that God always provides a way, and uses various means to accomplish His Plans.
I believe one of the strongest apologetics and evangelization arguments that can be made to Jews is to get them to realize that the Judaism they practice today is not the Judaism to which Saint Paul, nor Jesus, nor even Moses believed in and practiced. Why is this so? The fullest expression of worshiping God for the Jewish mind is that of Temple worship and sacrifice, which is also a central aspect of the Mosaic Law. But since 70 A.D., this ideal form of worship has been an impossibility, since the center of Jewish worship, the Temple, was utterly destroyed by the Roman Empire armies. But that's not all, around that time Jews began losing their identity through other difficulties and persecutions, quickly leading to the loss of the Levitical priesthood (and the loss of the other Tribal lineages as well). Just as without the Temple, the center of worship has been lost, so with the loss of the Levitical priesthood there can be no sacrifices according to the Torah for everyday Jewish life and living. And with these forever lost for about 2,000 years, this means that the "Judaism" of today is in its essence, not true Judaism and certainly not that of the Apostolic times. This is only further compounded by the fact there has been no new Divine Revelation or Prophets for the Jews for at least that long.
To put this problem in terms of Catholicism: it would be as if the Papacy and Apostolic Succession had been lost for 2,000 years, and no new Apostles for at least that long. Practicing Catholicism would be (functionally) impossible, since there would be no priesthood, no Sacraments, and no Church Authority. This "Catholicism" would not be the Catholicism of the Apostles.
Given this, today's Jews are faced with a very big question:
(Not being able to worship God according to the Torah is no joke for the Jewish mind.)Is God trying to tell us something in that we've not been able to worship Him as his Law demands for almost 2,000 years?
I believe the answer is, "Yes!" The only alternative - which all would agree is unacceptable - is that the God of Israel was a false god all along, since that's the only thing that can explain this 2,000 year abandonment.
Since the God of Israel is the One True God, then there must be an explanation, and the only reasonable explanation is Christianity (which arose right within the time frame when the Temple was destroyed). Christianity is the only group that can honestly claim to uphold the Torah and Prophets - and this by pointing out that they are fulfilled in Jesus, the Hope of Israel.
How can a Jew today "object" to this reasoning? I don't see how they can. And this is not Christians acting mean in any way, but rather this is sharing the Truth in Love.
In my recent study for my 70AD post, I came across various quotes from Early Church Fathers who had made similar arguments as far back as Origen (185AD). Here is what they said:
- Origen, The Principles 4:3, says: But if the prophet's words be true, when he says,
The children of Israel shall abide many days without king, without prince; and there shall be no victim, nor altar, nor priesthood;[Hosea 3:4] and if, certainly, since the overthrow of the temple, victims are neither offered, nor any altar found, nor any priesthood exists, it is most certain that, as it is written, princes have departed from Judah, and a leader from between his thighs, until the coming of Him for whom it has been reserved. It is established, then, that He has come for whom it has been reserved, and in whom is the expectation of the Gentiles. And this manifestly seems to be fulfilled in the multitude of those who have believed on God through Christ out of the different nations.
- Origen, Against Celsus 4:22, says: But, according to Celsus, the Christians, making certain additional statements to those of the Jews, assert that the Son of God has been already sent on account of the sins of the Jews; and that the Jews having chastised Jesus, and given him gall to drink, have brought upon themselves the divine wrath. And any one who likes may convict this statement of falsehood, if it be not the case that the whole Jewish nation was overthrown within one single generation after Jesus had undergone these sufferings at their hands. For forty and two years, I think, after the date of the crucifixion of Jesus, did the destruction of Jerusalem take place. Now it has never been recorded, since the Jewish nation began to exist, that they have been expelled for so long a period from their venerable temple-worship and service, and enslaved by more powerful nations; for if at any time they appeared to be abandoned because of their sins, they were notwithstanding visited (by God), and returned to their own country, and recovered their possessions, and performed unhindered the observances of their law.
- Athanasius, On the Incarnation 40, says: For if, I say—which is just what we actually see—there is no longer king nor prophet nor Jerusalem nor sacrifice nor vision among them, but even the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of God, and Gentiles, leaving their godlessness, are now taking refuge with the God of Abraham, through the Word, even our Lord Jesus Christ, then it must be plain, even to those who are exceedingly obstinate, that the Christ has come, and that He has illumined absolutely all with His light, and given them the true and divine teaching concerning His Father. So one can fairly refute the Jews by these and by other arguments from the Divine Scriptures.
- Tertullian, Against Marcion 3:23, says: Therefore these things either did not happen to the Jews on His account, in which case you will be refuted by the sense of the Scriptures tallying with the issue of the facts and the order of the times, or else they did happen on His account, and then the Creator could not have inflicted the vengeance except for His own Christ; nay, He must have rather had a reward for Judas, if it had been his master's enemy whom they put to death. At all events, if the Creator's Christ has not come yet, on whose account the prophecy dooms them to such sufferings, they will have to endure the sufferings when He shall have come. Then where will there be a daughter of Sion to be reduced to desolation, for there is none now to be found? Where will there be cities to be burnt with fire, for they are now in heaps? Where a nation to be dispersed, which is already in banishment?